ASU football comes up with close-out performance in Territorial Cup win

The Sun Devils' strong play in the fourth quarter helped seal a 52-37 win

The Territorial Cup.

"Enough said."

These words, uttered by ASU football coach Todd Graham during his weekly Monday press conference, could not have rung more true than when freshman safety Kareem Orr took an interception to the end zone to seal a 52-37 victory over Arizona (6-6, 3-6 Pac-12) on Saturday.

For all the misses and whiffs on the 2015 Sun Devil football season, Saturday's win was the one that mattered most. In front of a sold-out crowd of 64,885 people at Sun Devil Stadium, ASU (6-5, 4-4 Pac-12) closed out their rivals in order to secure bowl eligibility.

As the Wildcats got the ball at their own 6-yard line down 38-30 with 4:08 remaining, Graham was admittedly worried.

He had every right to be.

The Sun Devils had taken a 31-10 lead into the halftime break, yet watched as their lead dissipated in a rotten third quarter to the point where the Wildcats swung the momentum of the game in their favor. Arizona scored 13 unanswered points in the quarter, including a 95-yard touchdown pass to redshirt junior Trey Griffey.

"I was so infuriated because we had played so well, and I mean, we get a 90-yard curl route?" Graham said. "What was that? How does that happen? How do you go the whole game and play like that and give up that?"

The long touchdown pass appeared to set the stage for yet another Sun Devil letdown.

Except it would not have been just another letdown. This was, after all, the Territorial Cup. This was a game at home in which it led by three scores at halftime. This would have been unacceptable.

So, Graham took an abnormal risk. On fourth down and short near midfield in a one-score game, he went for it. Until he didn't. And then until he changed his mind yet again.

"I wish I could just show them the screen here of the huddle on the fourth down call," Graham said. "Boy, I did not want to do that. I was thinking, man, I can't wait to read (The Arizona Republic)'s article when I don't make this (laughing).

"I thought they were going to say that, because in the huddle I told them you better dang sure make this thing. Because at first I went, get the punt team, no, don't get the punt team. Call timeout. Get the punt team, no. And then Slocum said, 'Coach, the rules say punt it. We're playing good on defense, punt it.' And then (Vi Teofilo) didn't say much and those guys and Nick (Kelly) said, 'Hey, run the ball. We'll get it.' I said, 'You guys better make it. '"

Added redshirt senior quarterback Mike Bercovici: "When you have three senior interior lineman coming up to you in the huddle and saying, 'Run the ball. Run the ball. Run the ball,' it's pretty obvious that we're confident in those types of situations."

Bercovici kept the read option, going around the right tackle for a 10-yard gain. Senior D.J. Foster scored just a few plays later, extending the lead to 38-23.

Arizona came charging back, scoring a touchdown quickly and forcing a stop that set them up for the game-tying score.

That was, until Arizona third-string quarterback Brandon Dawkins was pressured deep in his own territory, forcing him to lob a pass that was intercepted by Orr and returned for what appeared to be a game-sealing touchdown.

Graham didn't allow his team to act like it, though, especially after Orr was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct.

"Really proud of Kareem, (he) scores and great interception," Graham said. "He gets a penalty. And, boy, I was searching him out and I couldn't get to him because all the other guys were letting him know we don't do that."

Four plays later, the lid came off at Sun Devil Stadium as redshirt senior cornerback Lloyd Carrington followed up Orr's act with a pick six of his own.

"I couldn't think of anything but (the seniors), and being able to just do my part and have my role in the game and put the game away (was huge)," Carrington said. "This biggest thing was coming out here and doing this in our last moment as seniors here at Sun Devil Stadium."

On Senior Day, the torch was passed — the freshman with the first interception, the fifth-year senior with the second.

It was an emotional time for Graham, who has been with Carrington longer than any player on the roster dating back to both of their times at Pittsburgh.

"My son caught the game-winning pass his senior year in high school against Lake Highlands when I was a head coach, and I almost had a tear in my eye," Graham said. "I almost had a tear in my eye today when Lloyd intercepted that pass because that guy, what an incredible young man. I personally coach him."

For the second consecutive game, the Sun Devils closed out a definitive victory, something they had struggled with this season. Saturday, in arguably the biggest game of the season, it all came together.

Orr and Carrington sealed Saturday's win much like they had other Graham signature wins, be it Notre Dame in 2014 or the 2013 Territorial Cup — with a pick six.

"Man, I love finishing that way," Graham said. "I love those pick sixes for touchdowns. I tell you what was interesting, I showed them every single turnover I think we've ever had in this game. The last thing I showed them was Damarious Randall's pick six (in 2013). I said, I wonder what that feels like right there? That feels pretty good. It must make you feel like that."

Behind a gratifying close-out win and the dramatics of a rivalry game stood the one goal — earning back that trophy.

"It's home," Bercovici said of the Territorial Cup. "It's back home where it belongs."


Reach the reporter at fardaya@asu.edu or follow @fardaya15 on Twitter.

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